Dear Lifehacker, Council clear-out days come around with regularity and in apartment-land where I live folk are chucking out old tech all the time: printers, monitors, old PC tower units, HDDs, even working laptops. What are the legalities here? What can you pick up? What must you avoid? What responsibilities would you have if you find folk have not erased data and apps? Thanks, Scavenger
Picture by Michael Coghlan
Firstly, I should point out that I’m not a lawyer, and that the exact rules about you should and shouldn’t do at a council clean-up will vary from council to council and state to state. That said, there’s a clear and evident principle which all those people you see driving around in utes the weekend before clean-up have embraced: once it’s out on the nature strip, anyone can grab it. (I’ve put stuff out for clean-up and had it taken between trips back to the garage.)
Are those old printers and computer cases worth grabbing, though? Not if you want a junk-free existence. While there will be exceptions, the majority of tech that I’ve seen ditched is clearly in no state to be useful at all. Even if the printer works, getting cartridges could be a challenge. Unless you’re a full-on electronics buff, chances are you won’t find old PC parts useful. I’d advise staying away, but I don’t like clutter.
If someone is foolish enough to throw out a machine or drive without wiping it, the legal questions are a little murky (and would depend on what you choose to do with the data), but the right thing to do is extremely obvious: delete all the information. Yes, it might be tempting to contact the owner (if that information is clear) and point out their error. However, as far as that person is concerned, their machine is on its way to the tip. Even assuming you have found a new use for it, the data should stay dumped.
A final thought: disposing of your electronics via a council clean-up isn’t ideal, since if someone else doesn’t claim it will end up in landfill rather than being recycled. If your council does operate separate collection for electronics at the local tip, try and do that instead.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.